Sunday, October 25, 2015

Week 7 NFL notes

Another “work, work, work” weekend, but fortunately there were only a few games of interest this week. One them was not the London game between the Bills and the Jaguars, which I listened to on the radio on my way to work Sunday morning. That is not to say that it wasn’t interesting, particularly on back-to-back plays in which an interception and fumble returned for touchdowns gave the Jaguars an early 21-3 lead, soon extended to 27-3. But now back-up quarterback E.J. Manuel led the Bills on the comeback road, and eventually a late pick-6 thrown by Blake Bortles gave the Bills the lead 31-27. Bortles, who was just plain bad otherwise, managed to complete some key passes, and a critical pass interference call on third down eventually gave Bortles a shot at redemption, throwing for the winning score with 2 minutes to play, 34-31. 

Otherwise, the Packers had their by-week as did the Broncos, the Jets failed to humble the Patriots, and former offensive coordinator-turned-fired-coach of the Dolphins, Joe Philbin, must be wondering how he could have mishandled this team so badly after it looked like an offensive juggernaut for the second straight week since his departure.

Oh yes, there was a Thursday night game:

Seahawks 20 49ers 3. After fourth  quarter defensive collapses the past two weeks, the Seahawks throttled Colin Kaepernick and company on their own home field, 20-3; the 49ers managed just 141 yards of total offense  This may say more about Kaepernick than his supporters and apologists can bring themselves to admit. Last week the Packer defense allowed almost 550 yards of total offense to San Diego, including 503 passing yards by Phillip Rivers, yet this was the same defense that held the 49ers to 196 yards of total offense in a 17-3 victory. What’s the problem?

We are told by the likes of ESPN’s Herm Edwards that Kaepernick’s “athletic skills” are not being properly utilized. He doesn’t have to be an “accurate” passer if he is allowed to run at will. The truth of the matter is that Kaepernick thinks he is (or wants to be) a great passing quarterback, not to be known as merely a “running” quarterback. While Kaepernick occasionally ran for large chunks of yards against teams like Green Bay in the past, as long as Frank Gore was behind him, Kaepernick running on broken plays and failed reads  kept opposing defenses guessing—like a good chess players might be initially confused by the “strategy” of a novice who doesn’t actually know what he is doing. 

Kaepernick actually didn’t run that much in years previous as people might think; in fact Kaepernick had career bests 104 rush attempts for 639 yards last season—and the 49ers finished 8-8. A late season game against San Diego demonstrated the limitations of the just let the quarterback act “natural.” The 49ers ran wild on the Chargers, gaining 355 yards rushing—158 from Frank Gore, 151 from Kaepernick (although 90 yards came on one run). Yet the 49ers still lost in overtime. Why? Because when a real drop-back passer like Phillip Rivers gets on track after a couple of early interceptions helped put the Chargers in a 28-7 first half hole, and finally tie the game in regulation and win it, and the 49er running game began to have a power outage—eventually you have to get the ball downfield another way, and Kaepernick was his “natural” self in that regard, throwing for just 114 yards on 24 pass attempts—and he wasn’t sacked once the entire game. 

It isn’t “100 percent” on the coaching, management or agent that Kaepernick isn’t being “properly” used. Kaepernick doesn’t want to be known as a “running quarterback” because he knows that places an asterisk next to his “QB” position. He sees all these numbers that these other quarterbacks like Brady, Rodgers and Manning are putting up, and his own do not “measure up.” That is why he complained that even though he threw 46 passes against Pittsburgh earlier in the season that the team hadn’t passed often enough in a 43-18 blow-out loss. The truth of the matter is that while Kaepernick has a strong arm, he has poor mechanics, makes poor reads and even poorer judgment.  

Even when he does put up “big” passing numbers, they are less than what they appear to be. For example, against the Steelers, outside of two long pass plays, 31 of Kaepernick’s completions went for just 217 yards, less than 5 yards per pass attempt. Against the  Ravens last week, 179 of his 340 passing yards came on just three pass completions, and the 49ers just escaped with a win over a bad Baltimore team (1-5) with an equally over-rated quarterback (Joe Flacco). But these numbers place in his mind that he is something more than he is, and all these pundits and defenders (like Edwards) who insist that Kaepernick is being misused and abused by others entirely misunderstand their man. Edwards also claims that Kaepernick would fit in quite nicely in Chip Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia, because it doesn’t need an “accurate” passer. This is odd, since Kelly apparently thinks the opposite, given his choice of Bradford, who can pass accurately (at times) but can’t run if his life depended on it.

Meanwhile, Russell Wilson has come under scrutiny by a few analysts who breaking down his play find that he doesn’t appear to be a natural reader of defenses or make proper adjustments at the line like other “elite” quarterbacks, in fact there is little evidence that he does. The favorite local target of criticism of the Seahawks is offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell; maybe there is a good reason for his “conservative” play-calling. A USA Today analysis after the Carolina loss showed how even on the occasions that Wilson had great line protection, he still missed wide open receivers—sometimes two on the same play at the same time—instead making a bad pass or taking a sack. 

Although superficially Wilson’s passing numbers seem impressive, they somehow don’t show up on the score tally. Whether or not this has anything to do with his ability to “see” over the line remains subject to debate.  So far in his career Wilson has had luck on his side, and he has been the recipient of some miraculous plays downfield. But some analysts are noting that Wilson takes too many chances with the ball, apparently evidence of poor decision-making and being too confident in his ability to make “plays”; at some point that tendency has to come back to “bite.”

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